Four years ago Nick’s parents took me to my first ever Chelsea Flower Show. After that, I decided that I wanted to get into horticulture, and that was the best decision I ever made.
Two years of college part-time courses, an RHS Level 2 diploma later and I work in one garden one day a week and in the process of returning to volunteer gardening next week. I’m still looking for a traineeship or apprenticeship of some kind, but so much depends on my state of mind and how I will cope with a full-time job that in a way, I’m quite happy with how things are at the moment and content to take things as they come.
Don’t get me wrong: I would give anything for a full-time job in horticulture right now. But I still don’t trust myself to not suffer bouts of depression, to not have that affect me physically and render me useless. If I could separate my will from my body, it’d be golden.
The Chelsea Flower Show is now a kind of tradition, at least for me and Nick’s mum. The first year it was me, her and Daddy Irish. The following year Nick made us four. But last year it was just me and her, and so it is this year, and it’s the 100th anniversary of the Chelsea Flower Show.
I’m watching the sky like a grounded hawk, tracking the weather and hoping that Countryfile will give me good news on Sunday. I’ve set my digital box to record all the BBC coverage because I’m a sad garden geek. I’m charging my camera.
But there is another face to all this, which bothers me.
Imagine my sadness when within the same week of receiving our tickets for this year, this came in through the post.
The sum of it is that a lot of school-age kids aren’t aware that horticulture is a viable career, and no one is really telling them about it. The perception of gardening is largely that it’s something their parents or grandparents did, or something people did outside of cities like London. But that isn’t true, of course.
There is food technology, genetic sciences to improve crops and plants, medicinal studies looking for new drugs and cures. There is the development of machinery, the managing of logistics, the language of trade. There is the guardianship of a patch of land, the custodianship of a heritage variety, the responsibility of education.
And in a funny way, the small-scale protection of this planet.
But I guess, firstly, there is no one really telling kids about all that, and certainly not in terms of equating them to superheroes. Though to be fair, that would work, wouldn’t it? And secondly, some of the jobs out there just aren’t paying enough. It works both ways: employers can’t complain that they can’t find skilled horticulturists to work for them if they aren’t willing to pay for that skill.
And there are skills.
Latin. Geography. Geology. Meteorology. Chemistry. Strength to carry and move. Dexterity to handle the most delicate plants and seedlings. Understanding cause and effect. Engineering for landscaping. Art for design. Communication for teamwork. Drive for working alone. Taking one look at something and going, “That’s not right…”
Am I upselling it? Maybe I am. I’m certainly romanticizing it unapologetically. But that’s one thing I’ve learned that can’t be taught or bought: utter, mad, geeky love.
My first Chelsea Flower Show, I realized that I wanted to join the family trade in design, and that was why I went away to study horticulture. But in getting to know about plants, I fell in love with them and how they worked and what they did. And a lot of art doesn’t work if there isn’t an element of love in it. It’s one thing to make something look good, but another to be so connected to it that looking good is only half the story.
So I’ve made it my goal to achieve some level of authority within horticulture, whether it’s working in a great garden or working for the RHS, so that I have the weight of authority to go around schools and tell young people that they can each be this planet’s superhero in their own little way.
I will be the sweary, over-excitable young(ish) turk in the wax jacket, wearing my badge proudly in support, strutting around Chelsea as though one day I will be part of it. Somehow.